Survival of the fittest: Why Darwin tech is the UK’s best hope

BGF Ventures partner, Simon Calver explains why the start-up world is built on Darwinism. Entrepreneurs must constantly evolve in order to keep up with change, he writes.

As we approach the General Election and the negotiation over our departure from the EU, there is a tendency to assume that the future will be more troubled, if not bleak. However this ignores some of the finest characteristics of our community of tech founders in the UK. Technology progress, by its very nature, never stands still and it is this environment that produces leaders with inherent and amazing adaptability.

Survival is about being the fittest, as Darwin taught us, but he also knew being fit for your environment required the ability to adapt. Ice ages, heat waves and flooding were all evolutionary speed bumps that many species overcame. But not all species could overcome the new challenges. The weak did not survive.  We see this echoed time and time again in the start-up world.

Over 65 per cent of children in primary school now will end up doing a job that does not exist today. The pace of change is picking up, think ‘Darwinism on steroids’.

Some companies are overwhelmed by changing circumstances, but others dig deep, change their product or their distribution, and come back stronger. Some of the biggest tech companies – Apple, IBM, Google – have done just this, sometimes more than once.

The smartest founders are awake to the need to keep evolving. For some that knowledge is deep within them, for many more it has been learnt the hard way with some scars and bruises to show for it. These entrepreneurs don’t see obstacles, they see opportunities. They always want to keep on learning.

Many woke up on the morning of the 24th June and faced the new reality of Brexit and have been working tirelessly since then on how to change, adapt and win in a new world. Entrepreneurs are focused on making change happen for others, it’s not surprising that many are adept at spotting the need to evolve themselves.

One of my earlier experiences of a rapidly changing environment was at LOVEFiLM. We knew digital streaming was coming, but we didn’t know how long it would take to become mainstream. We wanted to lead change, not be caught in its tailwind, so we hired a great team with the skills to find the solution that would work in this new future.

We hit many speed bumps and changed direction a few times along the way and got it spectacularly wrong early on (I have plenty of scars and bruises) but we knew getting films streamed to TV and games consoles first would help us win. We did and ultimately Amazon acquired us as a result.

Starting a business is tough. It requires constant changes of execution plans or strategy to survive. Sometimes the landscape – be it regulatory or economic – changes so fundamentally that it looks like a major catastrophe. To those with an evolutionary mindset, it is just simply ‘another issue to solve’.

We don’t know what the future after holds, after June 8th or after March 2019. Over 65 per cent of children in primary school now will end up doing a job that does not exist today. The pace of change is picking up, think ‘Darwinism on steroids’.

Adapting to survive is one of our most basic human characteristics. Let’s not panic about what we face, but enjoy the ever changing journey and ensure we come out surviving. It’s in our DNA after all.

Simon Calver is a partner at BGF Ventures

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for from 2016 to 2018.

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